- “Take Care of Maya” follows Maya Kowalski and her family after her hospitalization due to a rare pain disorder.
- Her mother Beata died by suicide after being misdiagnosed with mental illness and accused of child abuse.
- The Kowalski family’s upcoming trial against the Florida hospital is set for September 2023.
The Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya,” released in June, chronicles Maya Kowalski and her family’s heartbreaking journey through the US healthcare and court systems. And their legal battle is continuing offscreen.
Here’s everything to know about the Kowalski family’s case against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHACH), the facility where Maya was treated and later “imprisoned,” according to the family.
Maya Kowalski entered JHACH in October 2016 amid a flare-up of her rare pain disorder
Maya, now 17, was 9 years old when she first began experiencing unexplained symptoms like muscle weakness and burning sensations. According to The Cut, Maya’s symptoms started after she had a severe asthma attack in 2015.
After those symptoms persisted, Maya’s parents Jack and Beata took their daughter to doctors all around the country in search of answers before Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, an anesthesiologist and CRPS expert in Tampa, Florida, identified that the girl had a rare pain disorder called complex regional-pain syndrome (CRPS). Two additional doctors later confirmed the diagnosis, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Kirkpatrick first put Maya on low doses of ketamine to treat her symptoms. According to The Mayo Clinic, Maya and other patients with CRPS can experience pain that is “out of proportion to the severity of the initial injury.” When Kirkpatrick’s ketamine dosage didn’t work, the doctor recommended that Maya go under a five-day ketamine coma, a procedure that could only be done in Mexico, according to the Herald-Tribune. After some recovery time, the treatment appeared to put Maya’s CRPS symptoms into remission.
But Maya experienced a relapse of symptoms in October 2016, prompting her father to take her to to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHACH) near their home in St. Petersburg, Florida.
JHACH reported Maya’s mother Beata for child abuse and Maya was placed into state custody
According to a lawsuit filed by Jack Kowalski in 2018, the family informed doctors that Maya’s CRPS had successfully been treated with high doses of ketamine. Believing it to be the best way to alleviate their daughter’s pain, Maya’s parents asked the medical team to administer higher dosages of the drug. Doctors initially “ignored” their request, despite speaking with one of Maya’s regular CRPS doctors who confirmed her condition and the dosage.
“It seemed like they didn’t want to listen to what we were trying to tell them,” Jack told the Herald-Tribune in 2019.
Alarmed by Beata’s explanation that CRPS was to be treated with high doses of ketamine, the hospital’s medical team reported Beata for child abuse, according to the Herald-Tribune. The initial child abuse case was quickly dismissed after the hospital confirmed Maya’s diagnosis with her doctors, according to the lawsuit.
Soon after, the hospital called Dr. Sally Smith, a physician with over 30 years of child-abuse pediatrics experience who was also the medical director of the child-protection team for Pinellas County at the time. Smith didn’t work for the county, however. According to The Cut, Pinellas County outsourced its child services to a company called Suncoast Center Inc. — that company employed Smith in 2016.
Smith reviewed Maya’s case through hospital records, spoke to Kirkpatrick about Maya’s CRPS, and ultimately diagnosed Maya’s mother Beata with with Munchausen syndrome by proxy (now called factious disorder imposed on another person), a mental illness and form of child abuse in which a child’s primary caretaker fakes the child’s illness to gain attention for themselves.
After Maya’s mother Beata died by suicide, the surviving Kowalski family members brought a lawsuit against the hospital and others involved
Because of Smith’s belief that Beata had Munchausen syndrome by proxy, JHACH refused to discharge Maya into her parents’ custody and brought a second child abuse report to the Department of Children and Families. The court awarded the state of Florida temporary custody of Maya.
While Maya was in state custody at the hospital, Beata, a registered nurse at the time, was only allowed monitored phone calls with her daughter, who was supervised by hospital social worker Catherine Bedy on the other side of the line. Over the course of almost 90 days separated from her daughter, Jack Kowalski told People in June 2023 that he saw his wife “deteriorating.”
Beata died by suicide in January 2017 at the age of 43. According to court documents seen by Insider, Beata said that she felt “depression, fatigue, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness” in the months before her death.
“I’m sorry, but I no longer can take the pain being away from Maya and being treated like a criminal,” a note written by Beata read, according to The Cut. “I cannot watch my daughter suffer in pain and keep getting worse while my hands are tied by the state of FL and the judge!”
Soon after Beata’s death, an independent court-appointed psychologist, Tashawna Duncan, filed her evaluation, which found there was “no evidence” to support the idea that Beata had faked her daughter’s condition.
About a week after Beata’s death, Maya was released back into her father’s custody.
The Kowalski family’s lawsuit against the hospital maintains that the defendants acted in bad faith, leading to Maya’s “imprisonment” in JHACH, her mother’s death, and the surviving family’s “mortal fear” of healthcare providers.
Who are the defendants in the Maya Kowalski case, and what are they being charged with?
In 2018, Jack Kowalski, on behalf of himself, Maya, her brother Kyle, and Beata’s estate, filed a lawsuit against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Florida’s Department of Children and Families, Smith, the social worker Catherine “Cathi” Bedy, and Suncoast Center Inc., the company that employed Smith at the time of Maya’s hospital stay.
Per the legal filing, charges include but are not limited to false reporting of child abuse by JHACH and Smith; Maya’s false imprisonment by JHACH; battery by Bedy and JHACH; and medical malpractice by JHACH, Suncoast, and Smith. Further charges addressed infliction of emotional distress against the Kowalski family and malicious prosecution by JHACH, Smith, and Suncoast. The suit also alleged that JHACH was negligent in hiring Bedy, who had previously been arrested on child-abuse charges before her employment at the hospital.
Smith and Suncoast settled their portions of the lawsuit in 2022 for $2.5 million, according to The Cut. But the case against JHACH and Bedy is ongoing as of writing.
When is the trial date?
Viewers of “Take Care of Maya” saw a little bit of the roller coaster ride the Kowalskis went on to fight for their legal proceedings to continue after previously being delayed.
Cameras followed the family to court in April 2022 for a hearing about whether the trial should continue after it had been delayed earlier in the month. The judge delayed the case indefinitely at the time.
According to court records viewed by Insider, jury selection in the Kowalski trial is currently slated to begin on September 14, 2023. Speaking to the Daily Mail in June, attorneys for the family said they will be seeking $55 million in compensatory damages and $165 million in punitive damages from JHACH, citing the “irreparable” effect the events had on the Kowalskis.
“Maya, Jack, and Kyle will need medical care and therapy for the rest of their lives,” lawyer Gregory Anderson told the Daily Mail.
“Take Care of Maya” is streaming now on Netflix.